Max Franks

Blood of Fire

Kunda pulled her rough-spun cloak tighter as the chilling rain began to pour down around her. The early spring brought hot, humid days in the marshes belonging to the Okkan city-states, but the night air and cold rains were accompanied by the familiar chill of winter. Using her quarterstaff to support her, Kunda made her way along the overgrown road toward the shelter provided by some of the many trees that surrounded her. The fierce chilling wind rushed through her thick black curls, thankfully kept out of her face by a simple bronze circlet she wore above her brow. Reaching the dense copse of rubber trees, which gave sufficient enough shelter from the rain, she unslung her pack, jostling the familiar drum she wore hanging to her side as she set the pack down next to one of the trees toward the center of the thicket while whistling a jaunty tune. Placing her quarterstaff in the crook of some branches, she began to gather a variety of wet twigs she found lying on the ground before tossing them into a small pile. Pulling some dry kindling from her pack she had stored away for times like this, she threw it on the pile as well.

Kunda sat down with her back to the tree, letting out a soft groan that abruptly halted her tune as she crossed her bone-weary legs under her, and stared across to the pile of kindling. She pulled the drum from its sling at her hip and placed it in between her legs, closing her eyes as she rested her palms on the drum’s well-worn head. Kunda began to enter a meditative state as she slowed her breathing, holding it in for a short moment before letting it out in a soft rush. She focused on the soft thumping of her heart, drowning out the ambient pitter-patter of the rain and the distant peels of thunder. Focusing, the thumping of her heart became its own thunder and she began to thump her drum along with the rhythm of its slowing pulses.

She began to imagine a small flame in her mind’s eye, flickering weakly but white-hot nonetheless, and began to feed the flame her passion. In time with the beat of her heart and smacks on her drum, Kunda focused on what stoked this flame of her passion: Thump, her stern but wise father, whose lessons still rang in her heart; Thump, the art of the quarterstaff, and the feeling of her adrenaline pumping as she spun it masterfully; Thump, the beauty of the land, and how it stilled her heart every time she came upon a new horizon; Thump, her old drum, and how playing it made her heart sing; along with many more as the beating of her heart sped up. As the rhythm sped up, she began to drum a half-beat between the beating in time with her pulses with a Thump-a-Thump.

The white-hot flame began to burn brighter and larger as her passion grew, and Kunda began to feel a faint heat emanating from inside her chest, causing a single bead of sweat to roll down her olive-skinned face. With this flame now begun to really burn in her mind’s eye, she imagined her surroundings: The thick copse of trees with her staff resting in its make-shift crook, the abandoned road almost overgrown with marsh plants, and- most importantly- the pile of kindling in front of her. She imagined the flame feeding into the pile, and suddenly she heard a slight snapping sound along with the feeling of a wonderful heat from where the kindling lay. With her task complete, Kunda banished the flame from her mind’s eye with a final Thump-a-Thump of her drum.

Opening her eyes, Kunda was greeted by the blaze of a small but healthy campfire that banished the chill from her weary bones. Kunda reached over to where her pack sat, reaching in before producing a fig. She absent-mindedly began to hum that same tune from before as she split the fig in half with ease before beginning to eat each of the halves as she stared into the middle distance. She could see now that the copse of trees, and by extension the part of the worn road she had used to travel through the marshes, rested on a large hill that overlooked the marshlands. Kunda looked past the trees nearest to her, as some of the temperamental clouds parted to reveal the scattered light of the shattered moon, and not only did these pieces of light show her parts of the winding road she walked many times before it also revealed several immense structures overgrown with flora and slowly sinking into marshland. The variety of ancient structures rested at wild angles in that marshes, with some entirely on their sides and others only sitting crookedly as if they wished to join their friends on the ground.

Kunda could tell from the architecture that these were made by the Mystics of Old, possibly created even before The War of The Mystics, the conflict that wrought the land, the sea, and the stars asunder. She suspected that if she were to explore these buildings, it would reveal that they might be parts of the famous floating cities The Mystics had created. She put the thought aside as she relaxed by the fire and waited for the storm to pass.

Kunda had begun to doze by her fire until there came the sudden snap of a stick breaking, causing her head to whip toward the direction of the sound. She looked to see a figure walking toward her small fire, who seemed to be accompanied by some sort of beast of burden. The light of the fire revealed the figure in pieces from the legs up: he wore once-fine shoes that Kunda knew wouldn’t survive this figure’s journey, baggy blue pants that clung to the figure’s stout frame due to the rains that looked to be dying out, a silken cream shirt and blue vest also made of silk that wouldn’t ward away the biting cold that was now probably seeping in, and- as the fire revealed his face and head- a fine blue headwrap; however, Kunda found the figure’s most striking feature to be his skin. Parts of his fairer skin were covered in large swathes of iridescent fish scales, and along his neck he seemed to have gills that moved and rippled in time with his breathing.

“Hello,” the figure began heartily and full of mirth, “I saw your fire while walking the road and wondered if you wouldn’t mind company? I’m rather ill-equipped for these rains.” Kunda looked at the figure ponderously for a moment, then laughed. Her laugh was like her voice: deep, rich, and throaty; however, this burst of emotion from the seemingly stoic traveler confused the figure who asked, “Pardon me, but what’s so funny?”

“It’s ironic, don’t you think?” Kunda replied as her laughter slowly died away, though her good humor did not. “I don’t see ho- ah. yes.” The figure cut himself off as he put a hand to his gills, chuckling lightly as his face flushed. “Come, have a seat by the fire, friend. To be honest, I could use the company,” Kunda said as she gestured to the spot on the opposite side of the fire. The figure nodded gratefully and tugged on the reins of his pack animal: a large horse-sized goat with thick, coarse fur and two sets of large spiraling horns known as a Gotan. Seeing the creature as it and its master settled down made Kunda feel homesick, remembering looking over her father’s farm on the hill in the Gotan pastures on warm summer days in Jetia.

Quickly thinking of something else, Kunda asked, “Tell me, friend, what’s your name?” The figure gave a toothy grin- revealing a set of serrated teeth with several replaced with golden copies- and said in an obviously well-rehearsed tone: “Alexios Gil, at your service, fair lady.” Kunda snorted, “That’s the first time anyone’s called me ‘fair.’ What is it that you’re doing out here, Master Gil?”

“Why, I’m a traveling merchant,” Gil said with a practiced flourish before asking, “now if I may have the honor of knowing your name, oh-so-effortlessly-fair lady?”

“Kunda,” she replied before holding her hand up in a warding gesture, “and please just call me Kunda from now on. I’m no lady.”

“Well, Kunda, can I inquire as to your motives for traveling this blasted bog as well?”

“I’m a nomad. I go wherever the roads care to lead me. It’s not as illustrious as the life of a wandering merchant must be, but it’s enough for me.”

Gil chuckled slightly and rubbed the back of his neck before replying, “Truth be told, I owned a shop in Zara not too long ago.”

Kunda perked up at this, asking, “Why’d you leave?”

“Well, the new king of Zara has begun to crack down on all Shudan in the city. For me, it was only an upsurge in tax costs, but for those less fortunate, it’s… worse. I figured I’d leave before things got too bad and try my luck on the open road.”

Kunda was shocked to hear these dark tidings. The Shudan were a people like Gil, those born with strange properties due to the latent magickal fallout caused by The War of The Mystics, though not all looked like Master Gil. Some had bat-wings, cat’s eyes, goat’s horns, and a variety of other mutations that generally force them to lead ostracized lives outside of most normal society; however, Kuda hadn’t ever heard of Shudan being public enemies.

“Say,” Gil said as he looked up with a glint in his eye, “with all of the… baggage of being a Shudan right now, I could use a guard. You seem quite capable, Kunda I’ll reward you handso-”

The mercantile Shudan was cut off by Kunda raising her hand to silence him, to which he complied, as she said, “I appreciate the offer, but I’ve sworn an oath of nonviolence, Master Gil; although….” Kunda examined her bag, then Gil’s worn shoes, before replying, “… I could help to guide you through the wilds.” Gil pondered this for a moment before he stood up and gave an even more elaborate bow while saying “Happily, my lad- uh- Kunda.”

Kunda chuckled as she stood up, before walking over to the fire. “Well Master Gil, we’d better get some sleep then. The closest City-State is Uten and it’s still a several days walk from here.” With that Kunda put the fire out.

The walk toward Uten was uneventful until the third day. The roads deep within the marshlands hadn’t seen any care since the founding of the city-states, and it showed. The crumbling bricks were overgrown with swamp flora, tree roots caused bumps in the road consecutively, and parts of the road were submerged in swamp water. Throughout it all Kunda led them masterfully, as Master Gil regaled her with stories of his former life in Zara, his journeys so far, and several humorous anecdotes involving several ex-wives.

It was during one of these stories on their third day of travel, that they came upon a fallen log in the middle of the road. “How’re we going to move that!” Gil wondered, all his good cheer stolen by the log. Kunda approached to examine it when she heard a familiar snap come from the trees next to the road. She quickly managed to interpose her staff between her and the arrow now lodged into it, and she fully turned to the trees now while she shouted “GIL! TAKE COVER!”

The Merchant did- not needing to be told twice- as several figures sprinted out of the wood. Kunda counted six of them in total, four with blades and newly lit torches and two with short bows, and they were all closing in on Kunda and Gil; however, the detail that stood out to Kunda was that all of them had the red headscarf that showed they were agents of Zara. “Please, don’t do-” Kunda began, but was cut off by another arrow being shot toward her. With only a split second to react, Kunda spun her staff around her and cracked it into the arrow mid-flight. As the would-be assassins stood shocked, Kunda took a calm centering breath and repeated, “Please, don’t do this. We mean you no trouble.”

Recovering from their shock, the assassins rushed in to surround Kunda. Kunda made no effort to stop them as they took her places around her, but she did try to look each in their eye. Before she could ask again, one of the assassins took a swing. Kunda blocked the blade with her staff, and as the assassin was unbalanced Kunda saw an opening. One quick blow to the leg would open them up to further punishment and give her an opportunity to deal with the others, but she stopped herself from seizing upon this weakness. Suddenly she was raked across her back by another blade, causing her to reel and grunt in pain while she cursed herself for getting lost in thought.

Kunda turned with her staff in both hands, trying to keep an eye on each of her assailants. This led her to see another of the assassins advancing, and thinking quick, Kunda waited until they went to strike. Kunda blocked the blow with her staff, as the blade embedded in the staff Kunda pulled the assassin forward and around her so that she switched places with them and was on the outside of the circle of thugs. Kunda let go of her staff, even though it pained her. She doubled back hurriedly toward the Gotan and Gil, and as she did she felt the familiar drum on her hip.

Kunda began to enter a meditative state as she slowed her rapid breathing, holding it in for a short moment before letting it out in a soft rush as she grabbed her drum, and set it under her arms. She focused on the rapid thumping of her heart, drowning out the sound of rushing thunderous feet. Focusing, the thumping of her heart became its own thunder and she began to thump her drum along with the rhythm of its slowing pulses.

She began to imagine a small flame in her mind’s eye, flickering weakly but white-hot nonetheless, and began to feed the flame her passion. In time with the beat of her heart and smacks on her drum, Kunda focused on what stoked this flame of her passion: Thump, her stern but wise father, whose lessons still rang in her heart; Thump, The beauty of life and the sanctity of it, and how it burdened her heart to care for all; Thump, Master Gil, and how he made her heart warm with his wit and well intentions; Thump, These misguided people, and how it pained her heart to think of how they got to this moment; along with many more as the beating of her heart sped up. As the rhythm sped up, she began to drum a half-beat between the beating in time with her pulses with a Thump-a-Thump.

The white-hot flame began to burn brighter and larger as her passion grew, and Kunda began to feel a radiant heat emanating from inside her chest, causing her to pour sweat that rolled down her olive-skinned face. She then began to imagine her surroundings, the overgrown road, Master Gil hiding behind his nonplussed Gotan, and the four assassins gaining ground on her.

She imagined the flame splitting in two, then four, then six different flames that she sent into the assassin’s weapons and their torches. She suddenly heard cries of alarm as her eyes shot open, and she saw that the torches were now white-hot blazes that lit the surrounding area in light, and the bronze swords had begun to melt in the assassin’s hands. They looked up alarmed, and all muttered warnings about “Magick” as they fled back into the wood.

Kunda doubled over, drenched in sweat and bone-weary tiredness, as she shuffled over to the Gotan. Master Gil looked up at her, obviously shocked to his core, and began to say something but Kunda held up her hand. She took several gasping breaths before saying, “I’m no Mystic.”

“Buy you-” Gil began to protest before Kunda cut him off, saying “The Mystics were power-hungry maniacs who used the forces of creation to try and subjugate not only each other but the world itself, and in so doing they eradicated themselves and everything they built.” Kunda squatted down on her bone-weary legs to be eye level with the still cowering Gil. “The Mystics sought to enslave their Magick, while I live in Harmony with mine.” As Gil stared into Kunda’s warm brown eyes she stood up and dusted herself off before offering a hand to Gil, which broke his focus. He stared at her outstretched hand for several heartbeats before he took it and pulled himself to his feet. Kunda smiled as the merchant checked over his Gotan while he shouted out “This has definitely put us a tad behind, Kunda. We’ll have to get a move on if we’re to reach that glade you spoke of yesterday.” Kunda nodded, her smile still plastered on her face, as Gil took his Gotan’s lead and took his place beside her, beginning one of his many long and winding tales as they walked the similarly long and winding road to Uten.

Colin Williams

A Wish in the Dark

I awoke and found myself dangling from a rope, not knowing where I was or how I got there. The rope was wrapped around my backside like a seat, and I was holding onto it with my left hand. It was dark and dank, but there was a little light coming from above. I looked up to see that light shining down from an almost perfectly circular hole, maybe twenty feet up or so. Gripping the rope tighter in my left hand, I reached out to the side with my right and found purchase on some rounded, but slick stone. Looking up again, I realized I was in a well.

“Hey!” I called out. I waited for ten seconds and repeated myself. Twenty seconds counted away and I heard nothing but a trickling sound from below. My eyes had begun to get accustomed to the darkness, and I could just make out the reflection of some water. I looked back up and estimated by the angle of sunlight hitting the side of the well, that it was probably early evening. I sat there, gripped the rope in both hands, balancing myself and thought for a moment. I figured I was here for a reason. My clothes were dry, so it is not as if I had fallen into the well. My muscles ached a little, so I must have rigged this up so that I could go down. But why? I was not carrying any food, so it must have been something that wouldn’t take long. I thought for a moment longer, but no additional ideas came.

Very carefully, after gripping the rope tightly in both hands, I lifted myself up a couple inches and then let myself bounce back down on the rope. It gave a little, but not much. There was no other length of rope, so I could not belay. Trying to imagine the rigging mechanism for the rope, I reached out again with my right arm and using leverage on the wall, pushed up. The rope went down a smidge. ‘This is going to take a while,’ I thought.

I worked a little while with my right arm and then switched off and lowered myself for a little bit less with my left arm. With every inch, I could see a little more of the bottom of the well. With a moment of what I thought was ingenuity, I decided to climb the rope to create a couple feet of slack. Then, I hoisted myself up with one arm and wound the rope around me with the other, bracing it under my left arm. This way, I was able to use both arms to push myself downward, though I felt slightly less stable. I was anxious to get to the bottom to see what I would find.

The further I went, the more slippery the rocks were and was therefore more difficult to push myself downward. A couple times, when I attempted to push myself downward, my hands slipped on the slick surface, and I almost fell out of my makeshift seat. The rock wall at this depth had a slimy growth on it. While I rested for a bit, I scratched at some with my fingernails. It didn’t come off very easily. I patted my pants to see if I had brought anything useful with me. I found a lighter in my left pocket. Flicking it on, I looked at the stuff on my fingernails. It was dark green and had the consistency of mucus. I held the lighter closer until I could feel the warmth on my fingertips. The green ooze seemed to draw itself away from the flame, as if it were alive.

I spread some of it between my thumb and first finger and pulled them apart so that the goo stretched across them. I brought my fingers closer so I could see it more clearly. It was quite peculiar. I could see minuscule granules in the slime that were moving back and forth within it. Putting the lighter even closer, the slime retreated and exposed the particles, which at once sparked and turned to puffs of bluish smoke once they hit the air. The smoke also had a musky, but slightly sweet smell. It reminded me of something, but I could not quite put my finger what that was. I wiped the rest of it on my shorts, fascinated.

Curiosity set aside for just a moment, I began, more quickly now, pushing myself down and down until my shoes were touching the surface of the water. I spun around, lighter in hand to see if I could see anything of significance down here. The green substance was a lot thicker at this level. I had gotten quite a bit on my hands in the last ten feet or so. I didn’t want to imagine what those granules could do to them. I pushed all the science fiction scenarios from my head. I still could not imagine why I was here in the first place and where here actually was. I reclined back on the rope and reached down with the lighter to the surface of the water. It was hard to believe, but the water was only about a foot deep. I shimmied my way out of the rope and wedged it between a couple stones. The water was thick and unconscionably warm.

I bent over and felt around in the water for a couple minutes with my hands but could not find anything that seemed of any importance. Standing up, I sighed. Was all this exertion of energy useless? It couldn’t have been or else I would not have started down here in the first place. I pocketed the lighter and looped my hands into the rope and let my head hang and thought for a long while in the darkness. And then I thought some more.

I opened my eyes when something occurred to me. I looked up. It was full dark now. I grabbed the lighter in my right hand and flicked it on. Then with my left, I grasped a handful of the goo from the stone wall and, holding my hand like a fist, held it over the lighter and squeezed. One long strand of the slime dripped down toward the flame. As it got closer, the slime turned to liquid and the granules became exposed. They began to spark and puff into their bluish smoke, slowly at first, but then more rapidly. As the sparks and puffs feathered closer to each other, I began to see flickered images within them. I moved closer to the wall so I could grab more of the goo. I flipped the switch on the back of the lighter to increase the size of the flame.

In the staccato images, I began to be able to make out a little boy with white-blonde hair. He was playing with some toys. I couldn’t see his face clearly. I grabbed more slime and squeezed it over the flame. He was racing some cars on a track. Then the images started to move. It was like I was watching a movie on a screen of smoke. I grabbed more and more ooze. The images changed to another scene. The boy was being pushed on a swing. I could see his mouth moving for the pusher to push him higher.

I squeezed again. Then I saw the pusher. It was my dad. And the little boy was me. The image changed again. I grabbed more. I saw my mom and me driving up to Pennsylvania in her little MG sports car. Just the two of us. I vaguely remembered that day. Here it was in full color. I was talking and she was listening. If only this substance had audio. The images changed again. I grabbed for more, but then thought of another idea. I held the lighter up to the wall.

The goo fell away in rivulets. The images became frenzied across the wall. It was like watching an entire bank of televisions about my life. I laughed at some. Cried at others. I was down in the dark until well into the night. And then one of the images caught my attention full on. It gripped me as if in a vice. I couldn’t tear my eyes from it. Tears streamed down my face.

The little 8-year-old boy…me…I was sitting at a table in a restaurant with my older brother and sister, my mom and stepdad. I was eating pancakes. I didn’t have to watch any longer to know that I wasn’t able to finish my breakfast that day. That I demanded I take them home so I could finish them. And that by finishing them, I would be able to show my parents that I was, in fact, a very good boy. And that if I could just prove that I was good enough, then maybe, just maybe, my parents would get back together. And I would never again find myself in the dark. Afraid, alone, and unloved.

Can I Speak to the Manager?

Kerri Hankinson

Your Honor my name is Janelle Anderson and I honestly can’t tell you why I’m being
charged with assault and battery. Here’s what happened. I went to my local coffee shop like I do every Tuesday at 8:23 a.m. and ordered my medium vanilla latte with caramel syrup and fifteen pumps of strawberry sauce. When the idiot of a barista gave me my order it was in a large cup your Honor. He said, “We didn’t have medium cups and they were only going to charge me for a medium coffee.” This was despicable! I wanted a medium latte! A MEDIUM!I told the barista he needed to give me a refund and to give me a coupon for a free drink next time I visit the coffee shop. Was I going to use the coupon a month after it expired? Probably. That’s besides the point, and you may ask, ‘Janelle, why would you care about getting a large drink when you ordered a medium? That’s an upgrade right?’ That’s because when I’m an hour late for work I pour the medium drink into my own coffee mug so it looks like I made coffee at home. I can’t pour a large coffee into my mug. If I try to drink the rest of it, the coffee will burn my mouth and I promise I would sue that coffee shop! Did I hit the barista? I mean… yes. But, in my defense he tried to take the coffee back from me because they can’t give me a refund and let me keep my latte! And may I add another thing. The manager came to the front of the coffee shop and told ME to get out. That was just plain rude and disrespectful. I told the barista that I was going to get him fired AND get the manager fired. I didn’t even get my latte because I got so mad that I threw it on the floor! Your honor in all honesty the only person here today that did anything wrong its the stupid barista! … What do you mean I’m guilty?… you know what, let me see YOUR manager!

The Aeneid: A Window into Ancient Rome

Joel Rogers

Barbara Tuchman said, “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent…Books are humanity in print” (Tuchman). The Aeneid is simply that, humanity in print. Virgil’s epic poem is a fascinating insight into the society of 1st Century Rome. In Virgil’s time, Rome was in the midst of a civil war that was eventually won by Julius Caesar’s adopted nephew Octavian. Octavian assumed control over the empire and eventually restyled himself as Caesar Augustus, or The Respected One (Puchner 923). The civil war that preceded Augustus’ rule was caused by the assassination of Julius Caesar at the hands of disgruntled Roman senators. Augustus knew he needed to carefully craft his public opinion in order to avoid the same fate as his adoptive father, so he commissioned Virgil to write The Aeneid. At first glance, The Aeneid looks like any other ancient epic. Epic heroes, mighty gods, and forces of nature abound and meld into an epic story of an adventure to found the great empire of Rome. However, if one peels back the myth and looks at the epic in the light of its time, one can see the fingerprints of Virgil’s patron Augustus. The Aeneid is, in reality, a nationalist epic meant to instill pride in the glory of Rome and in their new leader. It is also a detailed historical insight into the small things that made up ancient Roman culture in the time of Virgil.

Ancient literary works, no matter how fictional, nearly always reflect some of the customs and culture of the people who wrote them. This is no different in Virgil’s Aeneid. However, it is not in the broad strokes, but the fine details that one can see them. Upon landing on the shores of an unknown and potentially dangerous land, Aeneas and his men disembark from their ships, and start to unload their ships. Now, as any men after a long and dangerous journey, these men were exhausted and hungry.

Then, spent as they were from all their toil,
they set out food, the bounty of Ceres, drenche
in sea-salt, Ceres’ utensils too, her mills and troughs,
and bend to parch with fire the grain they had salvaged,
grind it fine on stones.
(Book I, Lines 209-213)

What is interesting here is that despite their harrowing journey, the men of Troy are still Virgil includes that they are civilized enough that they set a table and dine with utensils even. This is a fascinating insight into Roman culture and how they valued cleanliness at the table. This is similarly noted later in the epic when Aeneas and his men feast with Dido in the city of Carthage. Virgil writes, “Servants pour them water to rinse their hands, / quickly serving them bread from baskets, spreading / their laps with linens, napkins clipped and smooth” (Book I, Lines 836-838). This is a fantastic insight into Roman culture, as they placed great value in cleanliness. It is important to note here that this is not simply cleanliness for religious purposes like their Greek counterparts, but simply to promote good hygiene.

Virgil’s description of a Romanesque feast does not stop there, as the feast in Carthage is a treasure trove of insight into Roman culture. Romans often dined at low tables, as depicted by Virgil writing,

Now Aeneas,
the good captain, enters, then the Trojan soldiers,
taking their seats on couches draped in purple.

In the kitchens are fifty serving-maids assigned
to lay out foods in a long line, course by course,
and honor the household gods by building fires high.
A hundred other maids and a hundred men, all matched in age,
are spreading the feast on trestles, setting out the cups.
And Tyrians join them, bustling through the doors,
filling the hall with joy, to take invited seats
on brocaded couches.
(Book I, Lines 833-846)

This fashion of dining was common in the Roman Empire, so readers of the time would have truly had a great image of the feast with Dido. Another item of note is the color of the couches the men sit upon. Wearing or having materials with purple dye was a major sign of wealth in the ancient world, as such a dye was rare to come by. This purple dye was actually made by the ancient Carthaginians and would have been a sure sign to Aeneas and his men of the growing wealth of Juno’s chosen people, the Tyrians. These little details are microcosms of Roman culture and the behavior in things not associated with war and conquest that is so often the focus of Roman history.

Virgil’s Aeneid also represents a unique perspective concerning the forces of nature and how metaphors are used within the work. One of the defining traits of ancient texts is their constant use of nature metaphors to describe items of great import. The gods themselves are even considered forces of nature. What is unique to Virgil’s Aeneid is that beauty and other descriptions are sometimes compared to human creations and not to that of nature. For example, when Dido first looks upon Aeneas, Virgil describes him saying, “His beauty fine / as a craftsman’s hand can add to ivory, or aglow / as silver or Parian marble ringed in glinting gold” (Book I, Lines 707-709). It is interesting here that Virgil does not compare Aeneas to a subject of nature, but that of things made by human hands, crafted ivory or sculpted Parian marble. This artistic metaphor is used twice in the work, when describing the look of Dido when she realizes she is losing Aeneas with Virgil writing, “But she, her eyes fixed on the ground, turned away, / her features no more moved by his pleas as he talked on / than if she were set in stony flint or Parian marble rock” (Book VI, Lines 545-547). Nevertheless, some nature metaphors made their way into the epic, as can been seen in one of the most visually poignant descriptions in the work. As the Trojans gaze upon Carthage,

Aeneas marvels at its mass—once a cluster of huts—
he marvels at gates and bustling hum and cobbled streets.
The Tyrians press on with the work, some aligning the walls,
struggling to raise the citadel, trundling stones up slopes;
some picking the building sites and plowing out their boundaries,
others drafting laws, electing judges, a senate held in awe.

As hard at their tasks as bees in early summer

The hive seethes with life, exhaling the scent
of honey sweet with thyme.
(Book I, Lines 511-528)

The scene stands in stark contrast to Book IV when the hive is silent, as Dido is distracted by her love for Aeneas, and is a beautiful nature metaphor that shows precisely the things that Romans found beautiful and civilized about their culture.

The Aeneid is not only a history of the founding of Rome, but a nationalist history. With a bloody civil war behind them, post-Actium Rome needed a unifying force. Virgil’s Aeneid was one of those unifying forces. The future Roman people throughout The Aeneid are considered a separate, chosen race. In Book IV of The Aeneid Venus remarks, “Would Jove / want one city to hold the Tyrians and the Trojan exiles? / Would he sanction the mingling of their peoples, / bless their binding pacts?” (Book IV, Lines 136-139). Virgil’s framing of Venus’ remark is almost one of incredulity, as if the mingling of Roman and Phoenician blood is something insulting to the king of the gods. Because The Aeneid is partly a propaganda piece, it is not surprising that Romans of Virgil’s day would consider themselves a race apart from the other people of the world. This is also used when comparing themselves to the Greeks, with whom they might be more closely compared culturally. In the middle of Anchises’ recounting of great Romans in history in Book VI, he pauses to tell what Bernard Knox describes as, “[R]ather the moral of all these tales—the Roman character and the Roman mission in the world” (39). This moral that Knox refers to begins with Anchises alluding to the Greeks by telling the Romans who they are not, saying,

Others, I have no doubt,
will forge the bronze to breathe with suppler lines,
draw from the block of marble features quick with life,
plead their cases better, chart with their rods the stars
that climb the sky and foretell the times they rise
(Book VI, Lines 976-980).

This passage refers to the Greeks (“others”) skill in craftsmanship, sculpture, democracy, and astronomy, that while practiced in Rome, were not to be the defining trait of Rome. Anchises goes on to tell them directly what Rome will become: “But you, Roman, remember, rule with all your power / the peoples of the earth—these will be your arts: / to put your stamp on the works and ways of peace, / to spare the defeated, break the proud in war” (Book VI, Lines 981-984).

This directly reflects Augustus’ view that he needed to unite the people of the Roman empire as one chosen people to rule the earth. This was not to be a cruel rule, but one that made Romans the subduers of the barbaric peoples. They were to teach the world the “ways of peace”, and “break the proud”. Throughout the work, Virgil is constantly reflecting this “moral” Knox refers to, or theme that Romans are to tame a wild world. Michael Putnam notes that the shield of Aeneas “…[E]nds not with Augustus in glory but with conquered peoples in procession…” (3). He also finds that “Once again the shield is a microcosm of the poem into which it is embedded. The one finds nature, in the figure of Araxes, tamed by Roman domination…” (Putnam 3). This imagery of Rome being able to tame nature, in this case a river in modern day Turkey, makes it easy to see Roman domination as a key theme throughout Virgil’s Aeneid and was a result of the need to unify the people of Rome after such a bloody civil war.

Virgil’s poem is not necessarily unique in that it served this purpose. Shadi Bartsch states that there are many ways Virgil’s poem can be used as “…[A] gesture towards the civilizing political function of the narrative artwork…Virgil repeatedly exploits the tradition of political…imagery to allude to the Augustan establishment of order after the furor of the civil wars” (329). Bartsch also compares the procession of heroes in The Aeneid to similar processions seen in Roman architecture of the time. “Virgil’s parade of heroes, like the statuary of the forum, seems devoted to aestheticizing the violence of Roman history…” (329). This cunning use of influencing artwork, both literary and architectural, by Augustus is something that was underutilized, if not unprecedented in the ancient world before this time.

The true purpose of The Aeneid during the time it was written was to deify Caesar Augustus and solidify him as the culmination of Aeneas’ legacy. As Kimberly Bell describes it, “As Aeneas constructs a new city based on the elements of two older civilizations, Augustus sought to create a new state politically, socially, and physically, based on a solid foundation of Roman tradition laid since the early days of the republic” (16). This concept of “city founding” was unique to Virgil’s epic. This is because while many Greek, and especially Homeric epics, focused on the great feats and deeds of heroes and gods, Virgil, and to a latter extent the Romans, ascribed glory to someone who founds a city, or in Augustus’ case, an empire (Bell 20). Virgil, working from the time of Augustus portrays him almost in a messianic light (Gransden and Harrison 4) saying:

Here is Caesar and all the line of Iulus
soon to venture under the sky’s great arch.
Here is the man, he’s here! Time and again
you’ve heard his coming promised—Caesar Augustus!
Son of a god, he will bring back the Age of Gold
to the Latian fields where Saturn once held sway.
(Book VI, Lines 911-916)

This might be one of the most overtly political passages in the epic. It directly connects Augustus to the gods and clearly asserts that he is the one destined to make Rome into what was promised by the fates. This overt political nature was not lost on the politicians of the day. “The Aeneid enjoyed an enthusiastic reception, both for its sophistication as a literary text and because of its political nature. Indeed, ancient critics were quick to note the political aspects of the epic,

particularly Virgil’s praise of Augustus” (Bell 12). Virgil’s entire procession in fact, is in fact one half history and other half praise and confirmation that Augustus is a descendant of the gods. Virgil even seems to gloss over the bloodiness of the civil war in favor of a unified Rome under a deified Augustus by having Anchises implore Augustus to,

[N]ever inure
yourselves to civil war, never turn your sturdy power
against your country’s heart. You, Caesar, you
be first in mercy—you trace your line from Olympus—
born of my blood, throw down your weapons now!”
(Book VI, Lines 958-961)

During such a tumultuous time in Rome, it is important that Virgil portrayed Augustus as accepting to all peoples of Rome, even the ones who had rebelled, in order to avoid another rebellion that would inhibit his ability to expand the Roman empire.

Virgil’s Aeneid is a complex nationalist epic that serves as a historical insight into ancient Roman culture, but was also carefully crafted political piece. One can peer into Virgil’s magnificent descriptions of Carthage and feel as if they are gazing upon the city alongside Aeneas. Or one can wander the fields of Elysium with Aeneas and join with Anchises in recounting the past glories of every legendary Roman leading up to the culmination in Caesar Augustus. This is probably why this poem gained such acclaim in ancient Rome, because it is the humanity of Rome, in print.

Works Cited

Bartsch, Shadi. “Ars and the Man: The Politics of Art in Virgil’s Aeneid.” Classical Philology, vol. 93, no. 4, Oct. 1998, p. 329. Academic Search Ultimate, doi:10.1086/449404.

Bell, Kimberly K. “Translatio and the Constructs of a Roman Nation in Virgil’s Aeneid.” Rocky Mountain Review, vol. 62, no. 1, Spring 2008, pp. 11–24. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid&db=lfh&AN=32139076&site=lrc-live.

Gransden, K. W., and S. J. Harrison. Virgil: The Aeneid. 2nd ed. by S.J. Harrison, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. eBook Collection, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=165075&site=ehost-live.

Knox, Bernard. Virgil: The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fagles, The Penguin Group, 2006, pp. 15-47.

Puchner, Martin, et al. “Virgil.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 4th ed., vol. A, W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 922-926.

Putnam, Michael C. J. Virgil’s Aeneid: Interpretation and Influence. The University of North Carolina Press, 1995. E-Book Collection, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1550&site=ehost-live.

Tuchman, Barbara. “Papyrus to Paperbacks: The World That Books Made.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Dec. 1979, http://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/entertainment/books/1979/12/30/papyrus-to-paperbacks-the-world-that-books-made/43c411da-2bf7-4e5f-8869-caaac5422e9e/.

Virgil. The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fagles. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, edited by Martin Puchner et al., 4th ed., vol A, W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 926-1025.

Strength in Illness

An Exploration of Mental Health in Modern Society

Skylar Pratt

You hear references to mental illness everywhere: Guys at the bar recounting horror stories about their psycho ex-girlfriends, the overly organized friend being teased for being OCD, or perhaps a change of plans or emotion being chastised as Bipolar. These terms are tossed around carelessly and negatively; their meaning is lost in a vague cloud of stereotyped symptoms and misunderstood real-life applications. It is uncommon for people to question their understanding of these disorders and how that understanding, or misunderstanding, affects their views and interactions with real-world mental illness. Thus, these examples are only a drop in the tidal wave of misconception, stereotyping, stigma, and discrimination surrounding mental illness in society today. The questions must then be raised; what is mental illness, how does it differ from mental health, and finally, why does it matter?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Mental illnesses are conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood or behavior, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Such conditions may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic) and affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. . . Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Despite the stigma, issues with mental health are quite common. “More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. . . 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Despite being common, researched, and managed by those affected, mental illnesses are feared, misunderstood, and by extension, stigmatized. Combating this stigma is vital. If 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness, that is a huge portion of the population being affected by stigma and discrimination. With more understanding and open communication, people living with mental illness would be more likely to seek help. This not only vastly improves their lives and the lives of those they interact with, but it opens an often previously closed door to productivity and societal contribution.

In an article written by The American Psychiatric Association, a few ideas are presented as to why the bias rampant in the world today exists. “Stigma often comes from lack of understanding or fear. Inaccurate or misleading media representations of mental illness contribute to both those factors” (American Psychiatric Association). Much of what we as humans fear is rooted in what we do not understand. For example, the monster under the bed or a paranormal haunting. If you have never had serious psychiatric issues in your past, exaggerated stories like those portrayed in media would be understandably frightening. The first example that comes to my mind is from the 2019 film Midsommar in which the protagonist, Dani, loses her entire family when, in a bipolar episode, her sister kills both of her parents and then herself. If you knew nothing else about bipolar, this would immediately give the term a negative and dangerous association in your mind. This is especially frustrating considering bipolar patients are rarely a danger to anyone but themselves. Or at least, that is why it is so frustrating to me.

I am mentally ill. I am officially diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 2, Complex PTSD, and ADHD. For many years I was ashamed of this fact and did whatever I could to hide it lest I be bunched in with the ‘crazies’ by my peer group. This led to a worsening of my condition and abysmal self-esteem. This is called Self-Stigma. “Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their own condition” (American Psychiatric Association). I struggled, and still struggle, with the concept of being mentally ill making me less of a person. In my teenage years, I eventually decided there was no point in trying to get better since I would never be capable of success or meaningful relationships due to my disorders. I had been wearing a mask for everyone, desperately trying not to let slip that I took medicine every morning and night or that I saw a therapist once a week. God forbid anyone learn I had spent time in a psychiatric hospital. I would google my disorders and read people’s stories of how their bipolar ex-girlfriend wrecked their lives or how PTSD ruined so and so’s marriage. There was so much negativity surrounding my mental illnesses that I thought other people, upon learning I had such disorders, would cease to see me as myself. That any merits I possessed and the traits that define me as a person would be washed away in a tsunami of labels. Thus, at the age of 17, I stopped taking my medicine, dropped out of high school, and had a passerby not called the authorities, I would have ended my own life. This is why I feel so strongly that the way we as a society talk about mental illness is immensely important. I and people like me are not sensitive snowflakes getting upset by harmless verbiage, we are bringing awareness to a long-overlooked issue into how society handles bias towards the mentally ill. While I was lucky enough to get help and am now thriving in ways I never thought possible, others have, unfortunately, not found the same fortune. My dad joined the army as soon as he graduated high school summer of 1988. Fresh-faced and ready to serve his country, he was deployed to Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. The war was brutal and left a now 21-year-old war veteran with no ideas about what his life would become. He took a job at a local supermarket and enrolled in a few classes at the local community college, but had trouble adjusting to civilian life. He was haunted by what he saw- nightmares and flashbacks a now common occurrence. The friends he had left did not know him anymore and he, likewise, no longer recognized himself. So, feeling like he had nowhere else to turn, he took to self-medication simply to survive the day-to-day. He told me once that he had thought about going to see a therapist like some of the guys from his platoon did, but embarrassment won over. He said that he was a soldier and that soldiers were supposed to live and breathe American values and ideals. He felt acknowledging something was wrong would be letting his country down. That his family would be ashamed of him and the small-town newspaper that had called him a hero upon his return would regret the praise and accolades they’d given him. Thus, he suffered like that for another 28 years.

I lost my dad to addiction on July 4th, 2020, at the age of 49 to complete liver and kidney failure. Everything about losing him is hard, but one of the worst things was that it was preventable. I tried for years to get him help. I’d send him the names of VA psychiatrists and therapists who were either veterans themselves or had experience helping people like him. I’d teach him some of the skills I was being taught in therapy and try to convince him to sit in on some sessions. Unfortunately, his answer was always the same. He did not want anyone other than me to know what was happening. He did not want to be seen as weak or a failure. I wish I could have gotten him to see, as I now strive to show every person struggling with mental illness, that his disease did not make him weak. Instead, it is a testament to how strong he was. Despite never-ending internal turmoil, he owned his own carpentry company, operated a photography business, volunteered his time to charities in Atlanta, and most important to me, was a wonderful man and father.

I am tired of living in a world where stories like this are commonplace. A world where people live in a state of constant anxiety and shame about people unrightfully judging the struggles they deal with daily. I am tired of our conditions being written off as being overly sensitive or being accused of attention-seeking when reaching out for help or support. These issues, while handled much better in modern times than they had been previously, will not be solved on their own. It will take a group effort involving everyone -mentally ill or not- to combat bias and discrimination around mental illness.

So, what can you do?

According to The American Psychiatric Association, the best thing to do is get vocal about it. “Talk openly about mental health. . . Educate yourself and others. . . Be conscious of language- Remind people that words matter. Encourage equality between physical and mental illness. . . Be honest about treatment- normalize mental health treatment, just like other health care treatment” (American Psychiatric Association). It is not a lost cause. Research, treatment, and medical understanding of mental illness are far better than it was even just 50 years ago. Something as simple as talking openly about mental illness can lessen fear based on misunderstanding and render the topic normal. If each person were to educate themselves about mental illness and normalize mental health, it would not just be those with serious psychiatric issues benefiting; the world would become a safer, more understanding space the likes of which people like myself did not think previously possible. That is why mental health matters.

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. “Stigma, Prejudice, and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness.” 2020. Psychiatry.org, Reviewed by Jeffrey Borenstein M.D. August 2020. www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination. Accessed March 1st, 2021.

Aster, Ari. “Midsommar.” 2019. A24

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Learn About Mental Health.” 2018. CDC.gov, 26 Jan. 2018. www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm. Accessed March 3rd, 2021.

What a Poem Adds to a News Event

Mackenzie Powell

Substance abuse has been an issue in the United States for a long time. During the pandemic, the rate of substance abuse spiked. In the article, “Substance use during the pandemic” the American Psychological Association outlines the clinical and scientific portion of the increased amount of substance abuse. The article also explains that those who abuse substances are more likely to develop COVID-19 as they state, “On top of the other risks arising with substance misuse, those with substance use disorders (SUD) are both more likely to develop COVID-19 and experience worse COVID-19 outcomes, including higher risk of hospitalization and mortality” (Abramson). By providing statistics and reporting an overview of the situation they further elaborate on the severity of the issue as they explain, “13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. Overdoses have also spiked since the onset of the pandemic. A reporting system called ODMAP shows that the early months of the pandemic brought an 18% increase nationwide in overdoses” (Abramson) The information provided in the article is crucial to understanding the significant effects of COVID-19. This article is strictly informative and does not provide examples of the effects on individuals and family’s which removes emotion and potential empathy from the understanding of the situation. This is where poetry can help make the connections by providing emotion and telling a story that is unique to the poet. The poem, “How to Celebrate Your Daughters 33rd Birthday When There is No Going Back,” adds a different perspective and highlights the significance of increased substance abuse in a way that can create distinct and personal interpretations from each reader. Poems can add a greater understanding of the emotional impact of an event than a clinical article.

Undoubtedly, “How to Celebrate Your Daughters 33rd Birthday When There is No Going Back,” written by Susan Vespoli, shares the poet’s perspective. Vespoli takes her readers through her daughter’s birthday while giving subtle hints about the daughter’s substance abuse. The first five lines of the poem tell us a lot about the perspective of Vespoli as she states, “Go south and then west to a distant unknown/ address. Drive past junk yards, steel shops, stacked/ car parts, and a billboard for weed pizza. Breathe. /Remember the last time you saw her, Christmas, /and before that, the car ride between hospital stays” (Vespoli lines 1-5). Vespoli makes key observations about her surroundings and makes her audience aware that the neighborhood she is driving to is definitely not the suburbs. She reminds herself to breathe which also tells a lot about her perspective and personal experience with her daughter. Vespoli may be breathing to prepare herself, to suppress emotions, or to ease anxiety. All of that is up to the interpretation of the reader. It adds emotion and gives the reader a place to make personal connections. She also goes back to the last time she saw her at Christmas and the hospital. She is likely going back to these last instances to prepare herself for her daughter’s potential appearance. This poem is about what is left unsaid just as much as what is. If the reader reads between the lines, they can find all of the nuances of the poem and its author as she alludes to her daughter’s addiction. The author’s perspective is given in these first five lines and the tone of those lines continues throughout the poem. The author seems to be preparing herself, but she also lets it be known that this is not new.

Consequently, the poem highlights substance abuse and its profound impact on Vespoli’s life, and she establishes the significance throughout her poem. Vespoli touches on the impact that this has had on her life near the end of the poem as she highlights, “Ask/if she’s taking care of herself. Listen to the wind howl. / See her eyes dance backward. Worry. Swirling/dust outside the window. Look how she opens/the card, finds a trace of who you two were then/ is still here in this empty unfamiliar room” (Vespoli 18-23). In this excerpt of the poem, Vespoli speaks of her loss and the fact that one can grieve the life of one who is still living. She drove over to see her daughter on her birthday with cake, presents, and a card, but she explains each step as she is going through the motions. There is a detachment and a sense of self-preservation left up to interpretation of the audience. The readers can also assume by the fact that she is still trying and wants to reconnect with her daughter that the author loves her daughter very much. However, there is a lack of hope in this poem which also adds to the weight of the issue of substance abuse. Perhaps, her daughter was clean before COVID-19 or in rehab and now she feels she has lost her again. The weight of the impact of her daughter’s substance abuse in Vespoli’s life can also be interpreted by the dryness of the poem. The poet words each line with blunt phrases like, “Follow her/through the front door into a house with no furniture” (Vespoli 16-17). She does not add a lot of description of appearance of the house, but she also lets the readers know the situation and her perspective with her manner of phrasing. The details of the house are not as important as why she is there and her current relationship with her daughter.

Subsequently, Vespoli’s poem provides different ideas and a unique perspective which can turn a statistic given by a clinical article into something an individual can personalize and empathize with. Every reader may interpret this poem in a slightly different way, but that is the beauty of poetry. It adds depth to something that others may see at face value. There has been a rise in substance abuse in the U.S. due to COVID-19. What does that mean for each U.S citizen? Straying away from numbers and correlations, a poem can immerse a reader into an issue where they have no prior knowledge. The article “Substance use during the pandemic” states, “Kentucky has seen increased emergency room visits for overdose-related incidents during the pandemic” (Abramson). While this information is important, if you don’t live in Kentucky or struggle or know someone who struggles with substance abuse, this may not mean much. However, Vespoli makes this more personal and tangible in her poem, ““How to Celebrate Your Daughters 33rd Birthday When There is No Going Back.” For example, at the end of the poem Vespoli alludes to the fact that her daughter may be high on drugs as she narrates, “Put your arms/around her, feel her wobble” (Vespoli 23-24). Nothing in this poem seems to be said without intention and Vespoli subtly lets her readers know the state her daughter is in. At the beginning of the poem when she mentions several hospital visits, this creates the personal connection. The entire poem can be connected to the statistic, but it creates sentiment and tells a very personal story. This story, when read by the audience, gives those statistics more meaning. While Vespoli’s poem can be interpreted in many ways, the important thing to remember is that it makes it personal. She does not provide her reader’s distance from the situation as she takes them step by step into a day that should be happy but is hollow.

Conclusively, a poem can add understanding to a newsworthy event that an article may not be able to interpret to people with feeling. Both articles and poems are important to the understanding of an event such as COVID-19. However, poetry makes things personal which may make people more motivated toward action or sharing their story. Substance abuse is a weighted problem in the United States. Susan Vespoli crafted a poem that generates more compassion and empathy toward the problem of substance abuse. Poetry makes a difference by telling a story and sharing a new perspective that could open the eyes of those who read it.

Works Cited

Abramson, Ashley. “Substance use during the pandemic.” American Psychological Association, 1 March 2021, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/03/substance-use-pandemic. Accessed 19 March 2021.

Vespoli, Susan. “”How to Celebrate Your Daughter’s 33rd Birthday When There Is No Going Back.” Rattle, 7 March 2021, https://www.rattle.com/how-to-celebrate-your-daughters-33rd-birthday-when-theres-no-going-back-by-susan-vespoli/. Accessed 19 March 2021.

The Offer

Colin Williams

Coleman looked over the sheet of paper he had jotted notes onto. He mouthed the written words and then took a deep breath before he lifted the receiver, punching a speed dial. Then, he waited, his heartbeat heavy in his chest. After several rings, her voice was on the other end.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Biddy? This is Coleman….Coleman Shanks? From Biology class?” He made each statement sound like a question as if needing permission to speak to her.

“I know who you are, Coleman. We’re lab partners, remember?” she replied, her smile could be heard from the other end.

“Um…yeah. Well, I was just…anyways, I was calling to see if you’ve heard any more about why they closed the school down for the rest of the month…and, well…yeah, mostly just that…”

“Oh,” she responded, seemingly taken by surprise. “Well, not much really. I asked my dad a couple days ago and he…well, you know he works up at the plant in Jenkinsville, right?”

“Right. Did you…oh, uh, go ahead,” Coleman interjected, but then pulled back so as not to interrupt.

Biddy paused a moment just in case he was going to say something else. “He, um, he said that there were a couple issues going on at the plant and there were some concerns about the city water over the next week or so. He said it was probably easier to close the schools than to try and prevent people from using the water fountains. But then they closed pretty much everything else, too.” What she didn’t say was the rest of the conversation she had had with her dad. The part that left a question in her mind. A question that had still not yet been answered. And may never be.

“Yeah…that’s weird, right? So that’s all he told you? Is your dad there with you?” Coleman asked.

“Well, no. He didn’t come home these past few nights. He called the night before last to say the plant is in lockdown until they can clear up the issue, but he made it sound like it wasn’t a big deal.” Biddy replied, her voice cracked just a little, but enough to betray her nervousness about the situation.

“Okay. Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine, just as he said,” Coleman said, picking up on her tone. Coleman couldn’t think of anything else to say at that moment. He looked down at the sheet of paper in his hand.

Silence hung in the air.

“So,” Biddy said, breaking it, “what was the rest of the reason you called?”

“The rest?” Coleman inquired, swallowing hard.

“Yeah,” she replied. “You said the closing of the school was MOSTLY why you called.”

Silence hung for a couple seconds. Coleman held the phone away from his face and took a deep breath.

“Yeah. Um. W-well,” Coleman stuttered. “I…wanted to see if I could take you up on your offer.”

Silence hung from the other end this time for a second.

“Offer? What offer?” Biddy replied, genuinely confused.

“On Friday, when we were cu—well, dissecting those…eel things—“

“The flatworms?”

“Yeah, and you said with all that you could teach me in biology, it could probably earn you several hundred lessons in soccer.” Coleman had anticipated what came after.

Biddy laughed right into the receiver. “Coleman. That wasn’t an offer. In fact, it was probably an insult and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say it like I did.”

“That’s okay I know what you mean…meant, I mean. Anyways, I wanted to see if you wanted to meet up at the soccer field and I could show you a few things.” Coleman said this all fast and then bit down on his crossed fingers.

A longer silence.

Coleman could hear a sigh from the other end. “Don’t you think we should stay in until we know more about what’s going on?” Coleman looked down at his sheet. So far, it was all going as planned. He took another deep breath.

“Well, it’s been five days and we haven’t heard anything yet. I have a portable radio we can listen to and some bottled water I can bring in case we get thirsty. And I’m tired of staying inside, aren’t you?” Coleman was determined. He had gotten this far and now he wasn’t going to let up. “My mom said it was okay, as long as I’m still in the neighborhood. Can you ask yours?”

“I could,” she replied, “but she got called into work early this morning at the hospital. Apparently some people didn’t get word about the water quick enough.” There was a pause. “But you’re right, I have been a little bored…and it sounds like you have it planned out pretty well…”

Coleman burst in. “I can meet you down at the field in, say, 20 minutes?” Coleman wasn’t normally this forceful, but the school year was coming to a close and he didn’t know when he would have another valid reason to call her. It was now or never.

There was another pause. Then, “Why not?”

“Awesome!” Coleman said, almost too loud. “This i—I w—See you there!” Coleman clicked the receiver off, not giving Biddy the chance to change her mind. Then, he grabbed his already packed backpack and soccer ball and headed out the front door, being sure to lock it behind him.

Dribbling the ball down the sidewalk with a girl on his mind, Coleman paid no attention to the lack of activity in the neighborhood—no cars passing nor people out in their yards–down the entirety of Magnolia Street. He did, however, hear the incessant yapping of the dog across the street in the Barnwell’s side yard. ‘Stupid mutt never shuts up,’ he thought. Why own a dog?

Coleman paused with his foot atop the ball and stared across the street at the dog. It was a larger-sized, tan mix of some sort. It was up on its hind legs, its front paws on the top bar of the half-height chain-linked fence, barking constantly as if it had an unlimited lung capacity.

Yet, Coleman noticed that it wasn’t barking at him, but at something down the street behind him, maybe just past his house. Coleman popped the soccer ball up into his hand and stepped off the sidewalk to get a better view down Magnolia.

Nothing. No people. No cars, except for a few that were parked here and there. Nothing but shadows cast by the trees that lined the street and even those didn’t move much on this warm, relatively breezeless day.

How strange on this cool, spring day to see no one mowing their lawn, no one taking a jog, not a single person performing any kind of outside activity. But Coleman’s teenage brain dismissed these thoughts quickly, because they had nothing to do with his mission today. He had somewhere to be and he wanted to get there first, so that he could prepare. This was going to be a terrifc day. And he was right.

Coleman turned and headed back toward the soccer field, a smile on his face and a slight spring in his step. At the end of the block he turned left on Birch Drive and trotted up the slight incline. He dropped the soccer ball booted it up the sidewalk and then turning his head and seeing no cars coming up the street swiped it over across Birch and up the hill to Poplar Street.

He dribbled it back and forth, left and right, right and left and then, without thinking, he power-kicked it up the hill, raised his hands in victory, and cheered like a crowd. But the cheer abruptly faded upon seeing the ball crest the hill and disappear over the top.

Coleman hefted his backpack higher on his shoulders and then ran quickly up the remainder of the hill. He thought to himself that he wished he had bent it like Beckham, because the ball was racing down the other side of Poplar, right down the middle of the street, past the soccer field.

Coleman picked up his pace and as he passed the soccer field on his right, unshouldered his pack, dropping it and then sprinted for the ball. Fortunately, the ball hit a pothole in the middle of Poplar, changing course and bouncing over the curb and going into the bushes outside the Science Quad.

Coleman darted over to the building, pushing through the crowd of shrubs that sat just outside the Biology classroom window where he had had the privilege of being partnered up with Biddy for labs this last semester. As he grabbed the ball and backed away, he felt one of the branches scrape across his face, causing it to go white hot for a second. He reached up and felt the scratch, but nothing came away on his hand, so he dismissed the wound. He then tossed the ball toward the soccer field, trotted back to retrieve his backpack and sat down on the curb to catch his breath.

Coleman had just about gotten his breathing back to normal when he saw Biddy coming up Poplar. She was still about 50 yards away and he began to think to himself,

Should I keep looking at her while she approaches, or will she think I am staring?

Should I stay seated or stand up? But if I stand up, I’ll feel uncomfortable just standing there, because there is nothing more silly than a guy standing still, doing nothing.

Should I walk and meet her halfway, only to have to backtrack to where I am sitting?

So, Coleman just sat there, rustled into his backpack, opened one of his water bottles, took a swig and choked on it. ‘What an idiot,’ he thought to himself as he raised his arms to regain his breath.

Then, he stood up, smiled as Biddy came within spitting distance.

“You’re bleeding,” were her first words. Her head was cocked to the side looking at his right cheek. Then it was her turn to rustle into her backpack and she produced a napkin. She approached and dabbed at his cheek. It came away with a little stripe of blood, but not much.

“Hmm…” was all he could muster, having been touched by this girl he had liked for so long.

“You get in a fight since we spoke?” she asked, smirking.

He quickly thought, ‘God, if you are there, please help me have a normal conversation.’

“Not a serious one; you should see the other guy,” he started, upset he that used the cliché, but then added, “actually, the other guy was a bush, but still, it’s in pretty bad shape.”

This made her laugh. ‘Score!’ he thought. ‘I knew it. There is a God!’

“Thanks for that,” she sighed. “I don’t think I’ve laughed since this whole thing started with the school and stuff shutting down. It feels weird. I actually enjoy school.”

“Oh yeah? Me, too, I guess,” Coleman replied. “I mean, I enjoy being able to sleep in, but it’s weird sitting at home, like it’s summer vacation, but not being allowed to go anywhere.”

“Exactly!” Biddy exclaimed. “It’s just bad water, but why close everything down?” Biddy looked down at her feet for a moment. “Something just doesn’t feel right.”

Coleman felt the need to reassure her. “I’m sure people like your dad will figure everything out and we will be back to normal soon.” Coleman tried to genuinely smile. Not a smile of feeling everything was going to be okay, but a smile that everything was okay in his world right at this moment. And therefore, it was genuine.

And in order to get her mind off the subject, he changed it. As he walked over to pick up the soccer ball where it had landed, he said in his most curiosity-inducing tone, “Did you know that soccer dates back to early as 300 BC?”

Biddy laughed, obviously caught off guard by the sudden change in subject, but she picked up on his tone, quickly. This was something they were prone to doing in biology lab when Mr. Galloway’s monotone lecture would drone on and on and they needed something to brighten the mood.

“No, I did not! That is amazing! Pray sir, tell me more!”

“Why certainly, young miss,” Coleman felt butterflies in his stomach as he spoke because he felt this was going really well. Much better than he had anticipated. “It was determined to possibly originate as a military exercise in China and played in much the same fashion as we do today, but when the Welsh got ahold of the idea, they decided it was missing a very important ingredient.” He paused for effect.

“What ever could that have been?” Biddy exclaimed, she held her hands up to the side of her face as if writhing with anticipation of the answer.

“Violence! It needed bloodshed,” he answered. “Instead of a leather ball stuffed with feathers and hair, the English made a solid wooden ball, covered it in oil, so it would be impossible to hold, and setup entire opposing towns as teams as they rushed at each other, trying to get the slick sphere to their own community church’s porch.”

This made Biddy laugh hard. “Wow, your history skills are much better than your science skills.” She was still chuckling and they both continued toward the center of the soccer field.

Neither one of them saw the thing, a thing that looked not much more than a large discoloration on the asphalt, slide over the curb on Poplar, and into the grass where Coleman had been just moments before.

At the middle of the field, Coleman unshouldered his backpack and held the ball under his left arm. “So, what I’m not gonna do is start you off with what Coach Barnett does, which is 20 minutes of running aimlessly around the field while he stares at the junior varsity cheerleading practice over that way,” he pointed to the area between the soccer and football practice fields.

Biddy turned to look and forgot for a moment that this was not just another day at school. There were no cheerleaders. There was no Coach Barnett. The field was empty except for her and this slightly goofy boy that she was beginning to realize was more interesting than most of the other guys she hung around with. He didn’t stare like some guys, secretly judging with whispered comments to their buddies. He wasn’t one of those who would flip things across the room at her and then act like they were fully engaged in the lecture. And he definitely wasn’t one of those who would go out of their way to avoid her because they thought she was unapproachable.

Biddy watched him explain and perform a few kicking and ball-stopping maneuvers. She really had very little interest in what he was trying to teach her. She hadn’t come here to learn about soccer. She just knew she needed to get out of the house so she could stop thinking about what her dad’s last words were to her.

“Hey sweetie,” her dad had said when she had answered the phone. “Is your mom home?” He sounded out of breath.

“No, she got called in again this morning,” Biddy replied. “What’s up?”

Her dad paused and then sniffed. He would do that when he was thinking about how to say something he hadn’t quite planned on saying.

“Oh, not much. There was a little mishap here at the plant and we need to clean it up. It’s not that big a deal. I am just going to have to stay here for a few days because of the lockdown and—hang on” he put his hand over the receiver. It was muffled, but she could hear her dad say “What? What do you mean? That shou—go, just get down there. I’ll be there in a minute.” And then her dad was back.

“Sorry, sweetie, I am going to have to go, but do me a favor. Give your mom my love and be safe. There is plenty of food and I should be home very soon.” The words “very soon” sounded farther away as if he’d pulled the phone away. There was a pause and she could hear a faint sound like fabric tearing. And then, “I love you with all my heart, sweetie.” The tearing sound was louder and then there was nothing.

That was two days ago. Her mom seemed to believe everything was fine. But Biddy hadn’t told her about the sound she heard on the other end of the phone. And she didn’t tell her the muffled words of her father. “What? What do you mean? That shou”. Shou what? Should or shouldn’t? What was he trying to say? And what about the food? “There is plenty of food,” he had said. Yes, there WAS plenty of food. They had stocked up enough food over the past two years to be able to survive at least 6 months without having to go to the store. Why would he say that amidst everything else?

All these thoughts had been turning over and over in her mind over the past two days and she had needed a break. She needed to get outside her own head and needed be with someone who wouldn’t judge her, wouldn’t burden her further, and wouldn’t need her to do anything more than just to be there.

Then, Coleman was laughing and Biddy was jerked back into the present. She quickly forced a laugh and looked him in the eye, hoping beyond hope that he hadn’t asked her a question, but thankfully he repeated it.

“Wanna try?” Coleman asked, as he kicked the ball towards her. Biddy turned her right side to face him, swiped with her left foot and kicked the ball right at him, but Coleman easily dodged and ran after the ball. Biddy gave chase and for the next half hour they kicked the ball back and forth, running here and there, laughing giddily and not really even following the guidelines set forth by the Federation Internationale de Football Association. Coleman was just happy to be with a cute girl and Biddy was just happy to be distracted.

Meanwhile, the thing in the grass had moved closer.

Out of breath and done with lesson number one, Coleman went and grabbed his backpack and picked up Biddy’s and headed back toward the side of the field where she had collapsed, mostly out of breath and ready for a snack. Coleman had brought a tuna salad sandwich and pretzels. Biddy had a couple healthy-looking nutbars and an apple. They ate in relative silence, occasionally looking around at the field and school buildings and occasionally at each other.

Biddy was hoping they wouldn’t start talking about the mysterious events of the past few days and Coleman was disappointed he hadn’t thought to make a second list of things to talk about. He thought about bringing up science class but struck that down because he didn’t know enough about science to have anything interesting to say. He thought about bringing up the Jenkinsville plant and water issue but sensed she hadn’t wanted to talk about that earlier, so that was strike two in the potential conversational topic department. He sure as hell was not going to talk about the weather. Only old people and people who had no idea what to say to another human being ever talked about the weather.

“Pretty nice day for playing soccer, huh?” he relented, hoping she would pick it up and take the conversation into another area.

“I guess so,” she smiled, and then took another bite of her apple. Coleman watched her as she continued to chew. No such luck. He was getting a little frustrated with himself because the day had been going so well.

“So, what are you planning on doing for the rest of the day, after this?” he asked, immediately wishing he hadn’t. He didn’t want there to be an “after this.” He just wanted this to go on for as long as it could. He didn’t mean to, but grimaced at himself.

“Oh? Uh, I hadn’t really thought about it,” she replied. Biddy wasn’t looking forward to whatever was “after this.” She wanted to remain here, in this spot, for as long as she could. Why was he bringing up “after this?” she wondered. Was he bored now? Did she say or do something he didn’t like? She felt he was trying hard to keep the conversation going and she blamed herself for not offering more. She honestly didn’t want to know what was “after this.” And so she made a counter-offer.

“How about we walk around the neighborhood for a while. See what other people are doing?”

Coleman couldn’t hide the smile that spread across his face. “That sounds like a great idea. I’ll go throw our trash away and we can go.”

Coleman got up and helped Biddy up. She handed him her wrappers and he trotted, almost floated over to the trash can a few yards away.

Biddy brushed some crumbs off her T-shirt and began to shoulder her backpack when she heard Coleman laugh. He was standing next to the trash can, facing away from her and looking down at the ground.

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?” Biddy replied.

“It looks like a weird shadow,” he answered, and then looked up and behind him and around. “But there’s nothing—uh!”

“What?” Biddy inquired, getting a little annoyed with his dilly-dallying. She could see part of the shadow in front of him, but he was blocking most of it. It was probably the size of a small car, but looking up and around, herself, she saw nothing that would be casting a shadow.

“My foot,” he laughed again, but this time it was a nervous laugh. “My foot is stuck.” He turned his body around to the right a little, but his left foot was still pointed forward. He grabbed the trash can, one of those that sits inside a cage that is bolted into the ground, and pulled, but his left foot remained planted. “Um, can you, uh, can you gimme a hand here? I seem to be having a little problem.” He smiled, but it didn’t last.

Biddy let her backpack drop and started toward him but froze when she saw his left foot disappear into the ground up to his ankle with a jolt.

“Ehhhh!” was the sound that came from Coleman’s mouth. His whole body jerked forward and down, but he quickly twisted away and latched onto the trash can again with both arms, the palm of one hand screeching across the metal top of the can, before catching hold of the outer cage.

Biddy could see that there was a dark, but opaque substance that surrounded the place where Coleman’s foot had been. She was probably wrong, but it looked like it had depth. It was like looking into a black garbage bag. You knew it could hold stuff, but depending on the light, you didn’t know how much until you started filling it. Biddy was transfixed by what appeared to be a swirling blackness. She began wondering how much one could fit in there. A person? A car? An entire galaxy?

Coleman turned his head and looked at Biddy, his eyes were wide and his face had gone deathly pale.

“Run!” he screamed at her. “Get away from here!” And then a loud pop broke Biddy out of her trance. Coleman let out a high-pitched squeal that seemed to carry on far beyond lung capacity. His left leg stopped making sense. He was still hanging onto the trash can, but his leg was stretched out twice as long as it should be and came to a pinpoint where his ankle met the shadow thing. It was like she was watching a cartoon of Coleman being sucked down a drain. But this was not a cartoon. This was real, wasn’t it?

Then his skin began to tear at different places and pop off the bone, like many rubber bands snapping back when broken. Coleman’s left side also started to rubberize like his leg and pull away from the rest of his body. The skin split at the waist and that’s when the high-pitched squeal died along with the boy she had begun to think of as a friend.

His limp body plopped onto the ground and continued to slide into the shadowy drain.

Biddy’s own feet were frozen, but out of fear and nothing else. She could not tear her eyes away from the scene. She had to make sense of what was going on but despite her knowledge of all the sciences, things just weren’t coming together for her.

And as if it sensed what she was trying to do, the shadow thing changed. Coleman’s body had all but disappeared into the swirling, black void, when the shadow no longer acted like a shadow, but it stood up on one end. Then, as if the surrounding air had a pocket, the shadow that was not a shadow at all, slid sideways into the pocket, the air creasing and then collapsing around it. And then it was gone.

As she watched this mysterious event unfold, or rather, fold, before her, something in her brain dislodged. A set of neurons detached, losing connection with the rest of her brain. And for the rest of Biddy’s life, which wouldn’t be long, every time she would see something she couldn’t quite make sense of, an image would come to her mind, of a letter being slid into an envelope, sealed and closed, but never addressed, never put into a mailbox, and never, ever delivered.

Ancient Lavender

Casper Sullivan

O’ brave Patroclus, O’ inexorable Achilles, we remember ye!

It is night. There is said to be a liminal hour, a liminal space, in which nothing on Earth is entirely itself, or entirely another; This describes their immutable nature, as well as the place of their dwelling.

The coarse canvas of their tent staves off many terrors. Even the shade begs refuge. They welcome it to the calm, not with open arms, but closed—locked tightly in embrace. Warmth without light is possible here, the shade comes to realize. For the first time in its cursed life, ever-starved of Apollo’s grand and glimmering gift, the shade knows true warmth by its name:

Love.

In their tenebrous retreat, they are oddities amidst a war. The gods demand blood; the gods demand action; the gods demand alacrity. At any other moment, they are beholden to offer all three aplenty. Not now. Not here. In this liminal hour, in this liminal space, that broad barge we ride—that single mindedly-driven ark that bares down on the tides of fate, like madly frothing horses bearing down on their gates? It docks comfortably at the door.

It is yet night. There is said to be a grand-scale irony of which none are aware, but to which all are mechanisms operating in its favor; This describes their immutable nature, present even in the place of their dwelling.

The coarse canvas of their tent swathes many tender illusions. What they hide is never entirely hidden from one another. They know this. Nevertheless, they think it necessary to try.

Their arms wither away from embrace. Warmth dies. What is left is but the shade. Soon, (sooner than you can imagine), and despite its best efforts, it forgets Love’s name.

Here, now and in all the little moments we forgot, there is a grand-scale irony to which all are aware. That solicitor, that messenger of tragedy that comes to call all our names in due time—

He waits patiently at the door, holding his hat.

When You Hear the Train

Logan Jones

“When you hear the train, you start runnin’. That’s what momma said.

“There’s somethin’ sinister about that storm. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Seen the photos. A charcoal cloud like distant ashes comes rollin’ in. You can hear the wind whistle like a train. Almost seem foreign, don’t it? You’d of thought it was the end of times, like the bowls of incense spilled onto the land. The lambs come runnin’ home. The dog’s got his tail tucked between his legs. The cows huddle up. Your momma tells you to get inside before the four horsemen snatch you up.

“You’d think it was the end of times. Until it wasn’t. Then you’d be sittin’ there, your heart a-poundin’, your child cryin’, your sibling sobbing, your house creakin’ and groanin’. Minutes feel like hours- or maybe they are. It’s no generic tornado. Some people saw it, saw it tear down their walls, and they saw that void starin’ right back at them. The worst part is you get to live it all over again. Shock wasn’t an option. You had to batten down the hatches.

“We started callin’ them “black blizzards”. Plumes obscured everything. It coated ships, prairie grasses, flesh, and lungs. Livestock became sacks of sand. Sometimes you’d find a herd of carcasses. Sometimes their eyes were gritty and glazed. Darkness swallowed them before their hearts stilled. Maybe you felt pity. Maybe you felt jealousy. Maybe you didn’t have time to feel anything before you caught “dust pneumonia”.

“If you had to leave the house, you best tie a rope to your waist so you can find your way. If you were lucky, you had a house left. Some people were forced to live in shanty Sunnyside slack piles. Also known as Hoovervilles. Imagine polarization at a time like that.

“You do what you can. We draped wet sheets over windows. We shoveled dust out of homes. We wore respiratory masks. We savored our cornmeal mush. We sought for signs that the Statue of Liberty was no longer reminiscent of an underexposed photo. We pleaded, prayed, waited for rain. We listened for the train.

“It didn’t stop there, but we survived. People linger much longer.

“Now, buddy, can you spare a dime? Don’t leave me hangin’. If you’ve got nothin’ in your pockets, at least tell me your story. What happened to you?”